Municipal Solid Waste 2006

How much MSW was produced in 2006? Depends on who you ask.

Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the stuff we have used and no longer need. EPA's MSW data does not track construction and demolition debris, or hazardous, medical, radioactive or industrial waste, so this profile does not include those items.

EPA estimates the size of the waste stream using manufacturing data, estimates of product imports and exports, and estimates of product lifetimes. Food and yard waste is estimated based on sampling studies. EPA has used a consistent estimation methodology for four decades.

Waste data from the 50 states uses actual tonnages from disposal, recycling and composting facilities. It indicates more solid waste than EPA's data. Using state data, Biocycle magazine estimated 387.9 million tons of solid waste were generated in 2005. State data often includes non-hazardous solid waste, such as C&D and industrial waste, and the states do not count or define waste consistently.

In a more comprehensive survey, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation tallied all U.S. disposal facilities and estimated that 545 million tons of waste was managed in 2000, of which 146 million tons was recycled or composted. That data covers all non-hazardous Subtitle D solid waste managed outside of the generator's facility.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at:

Municipal Solid Waste 2006 Facts*:


  • 251.3 million tons.

  • 1,679 pounds per person, per year.

  • 4.6 pounds per person, per day.

  • Yard trimmings, corrugated boxes, food waste and newspapers are the largest items in MSW before recycling.

Recycled (excludes compost):

  • 61 million tons, or 24.3% recycling rate.

  • 1.12 pounds per person, per day.

  • 408.8 pounds per person, per year.

  • Corrugated boxes, newspapers, office paper and glass bottles are the most recycled by weight.

  • Lead-acid batteries, newspapers, corrugated boxes and large appliances (“white goods”) have the highest recycling rates.

Recycled Content:

  • Aluminum cans, recycled paperboard, corrugated medium and glass bottles have high levels of recycled content.


  • 20.8 million tons of yard and food waste.

  • 8.3% composting rate for all MSW.

  • 62% composting rate for yard waste.

  • 2.2% rate for food waste.

  • 0.38 pounds per person, per day.

  • 139 pounds per person, per year.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 169.6 million tons, or 67.5% of MSW.

  • 3.1 pounds per person, per day.

  • 1131.5 pounds per person, per year.

  • Food waste, yard waste, corrugated boxes and glass bottles are the largest items in the disposal stream.

Landfill Density (1997 data):

  • 323,812,000 cubic yards of MSW landfilled.

  • Corrugated boxes, clothing and footware, yard waste, and food waste occupy the most space in landfills.

  • Aluminum cans and plastic bottles have the lowest landfill density.

  • Glass bottles and food waste have the highest landfill density.

  • An “average” pound of trash has a landfill density of 739 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Backyard composting and grasscycling and product lightweighting successfully reduce the size of the waste stream.

End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Paper Stock, Ferrous, Non-Ferrous and Plastic Guidelines provide specifications for individual recyclables.


Biocycle magazine,

Environmental Research and Education Foundation,

Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries,

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006” and “National Source Reduction Characterization Report,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington,

National Solid Wastes Management Association,

*Unless otherwise noted, data is from 2006 EPA estimates.